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Late goal leads Mason to win over Cranbrook, into first Division 2 Final since '97

Soccer   | Jeff Dullack

State Champs! Sports Network

Farmington Hills – A season ago, Mason saw its soccer season come to an end after the Bulldogs lost in the Division 2 semifinals on penalty kicks, a memory they surely haven’t forgotten.

This time around, it was Mason that would benefit from a penalty kick in the Division 2 semifinal at Farmington Hills Harrison high school.

With the game tied at 0-0 with less than 2:30 left to play in its game against Bloomfield Hills Cranbrook Kingswood, Mason senior Mario Abreu was taken down in the box by the Cranbrook keeper, setting up a penalty kick.

Stepping up to take the penalty kick was senior Leutrim Shefkiu, who buried a shot into the left side of the net to give his team a 1-0 lead with just over two minutes left as Mason would hang on for a thrilling win.

Shefkiu said that he was calm and confident before taking the penalty kick and added that last year’s experience in the shootout helped him prepare for it.

“For me, it just kind of goes away and gets quiet,” he said. “We were in a PK shootout last year, so we’ve been there and I was just confident enough and my teammates were confident in me, so I just stepped up and I wanted to take it for my team. The team set it up for us, we were working hard, we had a few chances before it, so it was coming for us.”

With the win, Mason (23-3) now advances to the Division 2 state championship game for the first time since 1997, as the Bulldogs will face Grand Rapids Forest Hills Central, who topped Mattawan 4-2 in the other Division 2 semifinal on Wednesday night.

Mason coach Nick Binder said that while his team hadn’t found itself in a tie game that late in the state playoffs this year, he was confident that its experience and leadership would play a key role late in Wednesday’s game.

“We haven’t been behind yet in the state tournament and we hadn’t been in a tie game that late yet, so it’s nice to see our guys handle that,” he said. “We’ve played in big games all year, we’ve played in emotional games, back and forth games and I feel like, with the guys that we have, not only do we have the experience this year with last year’s state tournament run, I feel confident with our upperclassmen and seniors that they can handle themselves emotionally out there.”

While the call of a penalty on the box to set up a go-ahead goal late in the game was a controversial one, Cranbrook coach Chad O’Kulich said that he saw the play and what happened and trusts that the officials made the correct call.

“What I saw on that play was our keeper went up for the ball, their player fell down and they called a PK,” he said. “It’s the ref’s discretion and he had a better vantage point than we did. It’s unfortunate it came down to a PK, but the center official had a much better vantage point than I did, so I’ll trust him on his call.”

In the first half, Cranbrook had a scoring chance just 10 minutes into the game when Kennie Kernen sent a header just above the net.

Then, with 20 minutes left to play in the first half, a Cranbrook player was taken down inside the Mason box, leading to a penalty kick call by the officials, but after a brief discussion, the ruling was overturned.

While Cranbrook had a few other scoring chances in Wednesday’s match, the Mason defense was able to keep the Crane’s scoring attack, which had registered 15 goals in five games going into the Division 2 semifinnals.

Binder said that Cranbrook was one of the best offensive teams that the Bulldogs have faced all year and that he was pleased with his team’s ability to slow the Cranes down.

“Cranbrook is as good offensively as a unit as we’ve seen all year,” he said. “Their front four and you can even add a fifth into that at times, they’re just so scary. Every time they get the ball on free kicks, on set plays, number 9 (Kennie Kernen) is such a good target on set plays, you know it’s coming, you put your best guys on him and it’s still effective. To stop them is certainly a testament to our defense and Brett making all of the saves that he needed to make.”

Mason will face Forest Hills Northern on Saturday afternoon at 3:00 pm at Comstock Park.